Brushing Dust Off Books: Public Libraries During COVID

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The Anne Arundel County Public Library (AACPL) has expanded its horizons during the age of COVID-19. Some students taking school online are without direct and immediate access to computers or books. Residents are struggling to apply for jobs and are in need of stable Wi-Fi. AACPL has brought new opportunities for users to take advantage of.

All 16 libraries closed temporarily on March 13, like most public buildings and schools. It was not until summer that the doors reopened. With the help of $164,714 in CARES Act funds, the libraries were able to cope with the pandemic to ensure the safety of staff and customers. The allocated money went toward plexiglass sneeze guards at checkout, signage, disposable keyboard covers, software and extended Wi-Fi access in parking spots.

Face masks and social distancing were enforced by staff. However, due to behavioral issues among customers and employees working in closed quarters for extended amounts of time, the public libraries chose to convert toward limiting indoor usage.

“We decided on August 13 we’re going to move to a more controlled access to the library,” said Christine Feldmann, communications manager of AACPL. “That’s where we are now. People can make appointments to come to the library.”

The libraries run differently to meet the needs of the community. In some cases, appointments must be called in an hour prior. In areas where some residents are not fortunate to own cellphones, walk-in appointments to browse the library and use computers are accepted.

Curbside pickup is available for those who schedule a time at their library. Designated spaces are located at the libraries with cones labeled with numbers. When a customer texts the library upon arrival, a staff member will prepare the customer’s order and place the items on a table in front of the building. The customer can then pick up their books and return to the car. The process of curbside pickup is seemingly contactless.

Once returned to the library, books are kept in a room and are quarantined for sanitary and safety purposes.

“[Books are] the bread and butter of what we do and the materials that we offer,” Feldmann said. “How we protect those books are based on scientific studies that are continuing to be done: if the virus lives on materials. That's one way we can do our part to mitigate the virus.”

Digital resources have also been a strong focus for the public libraries. AACPL offers free online tutoring for students through the program Brainfuse, easily done through screensharing and getting feedback from a tutor in real time. Audiobooks and e-books have been more accessible than ever for the public. Poetry club, anime club, true crime club, great movies club, and voting programs are also offered through the libraries online. Virtual events are held for people of all ages, from kindergarteners to seniors.

“We're doing some really cool programs with NASA,” Feldmann said. “People will be able to pick up a DNA kit at our libraries and do the experiment with a scientist from the Smithsonian. We have movies through our streaming service, Canopy. Members then participate in a discussion about this film. These are our ways to engage people in library events.”

Libraries continue to be of service to the community, from providing story times for elementary schoolers to offering leisurely material to seniors.

“We serve people from cradle, preparing them for kindergarten and helping our seniors who are looking to learn a new skill. I think our visitors are all over the map because we offer something for everyone,” Feldmann stated. “I would argue we’re as critical as ever, if not more. People are eager and desperate to find jobs. They’re coming to the library if they don't have computer access. Printing off a resume or applying for a job online is more important than ever. I hope that people remember libraries in times of crisis.”

AACPL hopes to further expand digital and computer resources by offering Chromebooks and Wi-Fi hotspots as a kit for customers to check out. The public libraries are open with a growing amount of resources for users to take advantage of, with just a call or appointment. It is easier than ever to safely access the materials needed for jobs, school or clubs.

Visit www.aacpl.net/location to find a local library and book an appointment or pickup.

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